60. MILES DAVIS- BITCHES BREW (1970)
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Miles Davis is the foremost jazzman of the latter half of the twentieth century. He was responsible for defining shifts in jazz with albums like “The Birth of Cool”, “Sketches of Spain” and especially “Kind of Blue”- the most famous album in the history of jazz. Along with 1969’s “In A Silent Way”, Davis did it again with “Bitches Brew”- these two albums created the template for the jazz fusion, a sub genre of jazz which incorporated rock, soul & funk rhythms. Heavily Influenced by the music of Jimi Hendrix and Sly & the Family Stone, “Brew” was assembled by producer Ted Macero from a series of long jams in which the electric guitar playing of John McLaughlin mirrored much of the best psychedelic music of the time but with a jazz player’s musicianship and mentality. Davis put an echo effect on his trumpet and experimented with electric keyboards and rock rhythms for the first time. The players on the album ended up becoming a who’s who of 70’s jazz fusion- including the aforementioned McLaughlin, the already established Wayne Shorter, bassist Dave Holland, Chick Corea, Bennie Maupin, Joe Zawinul and others. Taking all of those guys out of the equation would leave you with nothing more than the embers of a genre. “Bitches Brew” was a great leap forward for both jazz & rock and may have just started the last great revolution in jazz (unless you count techno music).
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59. CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL- COSMO’S FACTORY (1970)
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During the year’s 1969-71 CCR was one of the biggest bands in the country. The band’s first album was released in 1968 and received limited success and light airplay. In 1969 they released three more albums and in 1970 two additional albums. Though the album “Mardi Gras” followed in 1972 the band was already petering out by then. Though they were only together for this short time they amassed a large collection of great and instantly recognizable hits. Even a casual rock fan should at least own a greatest hits collection or two by Creedence. But as far as studio albums go 1970’s “Cosmo’s Factory” is their best. It contains singles “Travelin’ Band”, “Up Around the Bend”, “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”, “Run Through the Jungle” and the sublime ballads “Who’ll Stop the Rain” and my personal favorite “Long As I Can See the Light”. Every one of those tracks was a hit. Elsewhere there is the 11+ minute jam cover of the Motown classic “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, a great Bo Diddley cover “Before You Accuse Me” and excellent album tracks like “Ramble Tamble”. You can’t go wrong with any of Creedence’s 1969 albums either, particularly “Willy and the Poor Boys” but “Cosmo’s Factory” represents the band at its absolute peak.
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58. BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS- EXODUS (1977)
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It would take the ubiquitous posthumous compilation “Legend” (released in 1984- three years after Bob’s death from cancer) to break Bob Marley commercially in America. Ever since its release Bob Marley has been a household name. Outside of the fantastic title track and “The Heathen”, “Exodus” is a much less political album that the four U.S. releases that preceded it and not coincidentally it was “Exodus” that broke Marley in the U.K. and to in-the-know American hipsters. Half of “Exodus” actually appears on “Legend”- which itself is 14 tracks. One Love/People Get Ready” is more a statement of unity than a call to arms and “Jammin’” and “Waiting in Vain” are two of Marley’s best love/sex songs- hell they are two of his best songs period. After all of these listens I’m still not sick of either of them. “So Much Things to Say” and “Turn the Lights Down Low” are two other lesser known standouts and though I’ve probably heard it one too many times “Three Little Birds” remains one of the most recognizable tracks in Marley’s discography. Though he recorded a few more very good albums before his tragic death none would come close to the quality of “Exodus”.
57. THE TALKING HEADS- 77 (1977)
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The East Village CBGB 70’s punk scene was hardly homogenous but even-so the Talking Heads still stuck out like a sore thumb. They were more artsy, cerebral and less aggressive than their counterparts in the scene. Their music, singer David Byrne in particular, sounded nervous, paranoid & jumpy, with a minimalistbent and Caribbean inspired staggered rhythms. Byrne’s voice was twitchy, yelpy and completely devoid of sex appeal- it was also instantly recognizable and one of a king. He set the table for many indie rock vocalists who came after him who couldn’t really carry a tune but who had something important to say. Despite the band’s unique & offbeat sound their songs were undeniably catchy and many tracks on their debut album could have had a chance at becoming hits had the band already been established. “Psycho Killer” was the band’s signature song from their early days and is still a band staple. “Uh-Oh Love Comes to Town”, “New Feeling”, “Pulled Up” and “Don’t Worry About the Government” are other standouts. Though many of their later albums get more credit, “77” is a great debut and I think unfairly overlooked. They might not have had Brian Eno yet but they had the tunes and the template of the band was already set.
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56. NEIL YOUNG- HARVEST (1972)
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“Harvest” is not Neil Young’s best album nor is it my favorite, but it is his most popular and most hit laden. He was already established as a musician from his stints in Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Still, Nash & Young and his first three solo albums garnered him critical love and a growing fanbase. But “Harvest”, a mellower, mostly acoustic offering than Young’s previous two albums, came smack dab in the middle of the singer-songwriter phenomenon, gave him a #1 pop hit with “Heart of Gold” and made Young a superstar. While “Harvest” is one of Young’s most accessible albums it is hardly a lightweight affair. “Alabama” attacks southern racism and “The Needle and the Damage Done” the horrors of drug abuse. Elsewhere enduring songs like the title track and “Old Man” examine Young’s own place in the world along with the hopes and dreams of his fellow baby boomers. Despite the cringe-worthy title, “A Man Needs a Maid” is also a poignant song that suggest the chaos & changes going on in Young’s life at the time. Though “Harvest” may not be Young’s most cutting edge record and it’s filled with great songs and definitely more than earns its way onto this list.
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55. VAN HALEN- I (1978)
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Van Halen I- the ultimate party album by the ultimate party band. During their original lineup (Roth, Eddie, Alex, Michael Anthony) VH never made a bad album but to me their first will always be their best. Along with 70’s KISS they pretty much invented the template for 80’s pop metal. KISS had the songs and the costumes down, but Van Halen brought the musical virtuosity. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen is simply one of the best and the most influential guitarists and rock history. He was a game changer on the electric guitar along the lines of Jimi Hendrix He is fast as lightning & wildly inventive with absolutely flawless technique. His use of tapping and harmonics had never been done so successfully before. Instrumental “Eruption” upped the ante in hard rock guitar soloing. Vocalist David Lee Roth, while never possessing an amazing voice, was truly a one of a kind frontman. His energy and personality added flavor to the band’s songs making them much more than mere platforms for Eddie’s guitar histrionics. The bonus of Alex Van Halen’s muscular drumming and Michael Anthony’s steady bass and top notch backing vocals made the band rock solid. Some of VH’s best and most well-known songs are right here- “Runnin’ With the Devil”, their cover of the Kink’s “You Really Got Me” and oft-sampled “Jamie’s Crying” and “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love” as well as fantastic deep cuts like “Atomic Punk” and “On Fire”. Van Halen would never be the same after Roth left in ’84- they were still technically great players but they softened their age and lost their pizazz with workman-like singer Sammy Hagar. If you like hard rock and heavy metal even a little bit this album is essential.
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54. CURTIS MAYFIELD- SUPERFLY OST (1972)
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After Isaac Hayes started the whole 70’s blaxploitation genre with “Theme From Shaft” a year earlier, Curtis Mayfield perfected it with 1972’s “Superfly”. Mayfield was already a soul legend after his years leading the great soul vocal group the Impressions in the sixties. They were probably the best group band out of Chicago and their music was used as a veritable soundtrack for the civil rights movement with great cuts like “Keep On Pushing”, “This Is My Country”, “We’re A Winner” and Choice of Colors”. Beautiful stuff. Mayfield already had two excellent solo albums under his belt before “Superfly”, both of which were funk-based, a music that Mayfield had helped pioneer. Through now classic songs like “Little Child, Running Wild”, “Freddie’s Dead”, “Pusherman” and the title cut, Mayfield tells the story of pimps, pushers & hustlers living in urban blight, mirroring an increasingly pessimistic urban black society. Many of the strides that the black community made throughout the sixties as well as the optimistic spirit for better times ahead gave forth to a pervasive sense of doom & gloom with the election of Richard Nixon in ’68, as well as the death of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy and other black leaders and champions. So much had changed but now it felt like the black community was moving backward. Albums like “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” by Sly & the Family Stone and “Superfly” capture the spirit of these times perfectly.
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53. BIG STAR- #1 RECORD (1972)
Buy #1 Record Radio City (Bonus Track Version) – Big Star
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Big Star was perhaps the first as well as the ultimate cult band. Even the Velvet Underground before them was somewhat critically hyped and at least reached the lower rungs of the billboard album charts. Ditto with the Stooges and MC5. Big Star sold nothing and their critical adulation took several years to take hold. And this is a travesty. Their music was no longer cache in the mid 70’s. They were heavily influenced by the early British Invasion sound of the sixties and played in a power-pop style. But bands like Badfinger and the Raspberries played in a similar style at the same time and still had hits and Big Star was better than either of them. It was the case of bad timing, lack of record promotion and their label going bankrupt right around the release of their albums. Big Star was led by Alex Chilton, of former 60’s blue-eyed soul group the Box Tops, as well as fellow vocalist/genius Chris Bell who flew the coop after this album. Picking my favorite Big Star album is a challenge. There are only three proper albums and all three are essential and a case could be made for any of them being their best. “#1 Record” is the only to feature both the talents of Chilton and Bell. It’s their most sweetest and most optimistic album and the one most tied to the sixties jangle-pop beat music. Big Star’s many great songs are spread over all three of their albums and the batch on “#1 Record” are as great as any. Album opener “Feel”, “The Ballad of El Goodo”, “In the Street” (later the theme song to “That 70’s Show”), the heartbreaking “Thirteen” (later covered by Elliott Smith), the first four tracks on side 1 is probably the best Big Star album side. Side 2 cut “Watch the Sunrise” is another absolute standout but the rest of side 2 does dip slightly in quality compared to side 1. But that’s relatively speaking- it’s still very good music. Most band would be happy if that was their best music. It’s a crime that they didn’t have at least 10 pop radio hits.
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52. JOHN LENNON & PLASTIC ONO BAND- JOHN LENNON & PLASTIC ONO BAND (1970)
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After a series of poorly received collaborations with Yoko Ono, and a better received live album featuring the hits “Cold Turkey” and “Give Peace of Chance”, John Lennon released his first true studio album after the dissolution of the Beatles in 1970, with “Plastic Ono Band”. Though it’s credited as a band effort, the full album feels like a pure solo release. Lennon completely rips his own guts out and puts them on wax. It makes for an often uncomfortable but fascinating listen. Unlike with the Yoko collabs, the songs on “Plastic” are all normally structured songs, but it’s tough to find a starker, more bare-bones and downright harrowing set of songs than these. Lennon wrote these songs as a result of primal scream therapy and listening to them feels that way. The melodies are memorable, and the album contains a handful of absolute classics like “Mother”, “Working Class Hero” and “God”, but there is nothing pleasant about any of them. Lennon absolutely lays his soul bare, letting forth pure anger, sadness and desperation at people in both his past and present and at society in general. Nothing like this had ever been done like this before in popular music- nothing so lacking in subtlety at least. Though this was hardly his biggest seller it proved massively influential on several generations of musicians and has not lost a bit of its edge to this day.
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51. THE B-52’S- THE B-52’S (1979)
Buy The B-52’s – The B-52’s
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Athens, Georgia’s own B-52’s borrowed from many but were one of a kind. They could be linked with both punk and New Wave but were really neither. Weird and campy but hella fun, hilarious and ass kicking. They took sixties surf guitar and sixties girl group harmonies from outer space and added the energy of punk, new wave keyboards and Peg Bundy’s wardrobe (though she wouldn’t be around for a few years later). Their look was so kitschy and tacky that it was cool. That a band from the conservative deep south with two flamboyantly gay males could gain traction was quite a trick. Though most B-52’s albums are hit and miss affairs the debut is near perfect with only a couple of lesser cuts at the end of side 2. Side 1 is B-52’s at their apex- “Planet Claire” and “Dance This Mess Around” are vintage, “Lava” is one of their most underrated songs and both “52 Girls” and especially the immortal “Rock Lobster” are flatout two of the best party songs ever made. The band still has their detractors but those people are missing out. Let our your inner wild child, put a big smile on your face, wear some crazy pants and dance your ass off!
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